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The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Fiammetta: 3 reasons for Badgers success

Looking strictly at seeding, Thursday transpired precisely according to plan for the Wisconsin Badgers.

A 73-49 win over 13th-seeded Montana advanced fourth-seeded Wisconsin to the Round of 32, where the Badgers will meet the fifth-seeded Vanderbilt Commodores on Saturday. The sizable difference between Wisconsin and Montana was just as present in their sheer talent as it was in their seeding, as the Badgers never trailed after the 17:00 mark in the first half.

Taken at face value, Wisconsin’s opening-round game of the NCAA tournament was perhaps its finest performance of the season. Defense is never the issue with these Badgers, so seeing an offensive performance in which four players scored in double figures and the team collectively made nearly half of its shots (47.9 percent) was tremendously encouraging.


In playing the Commodores Saturday, the Badgers will face a team almost as inconsistent as they are. Vanderbilt entered the NCAA tournament riding a three-game winning streak, including a 71-64 win over the top overall seed, the Kentucky Wildcats, in the SEC tournament championship game. Prior to that streak, the Commodores had lost two of their last three games. A three-game winning streak preceded that, though a stretch where the Wildcats lost three of four came first.

Either way, Wisconsin has to feel confident moving forward in the NCAA Tournament. In March Madness, nothing really can be held as certain, as the actual matchups tend to forecast the outcomes of games better than the actual seedings. Vanderbilt, a No. 5 seed, will face a Wisconsin team that, save the Big Ten Tournament semifinal loss to Michigan State, has played its best basketball for the last month of the season.

Individual performances reigned over the final result – Wisconsin was the favorite, anyway – Thursday afternoon. Jared Berggren, still working to improve his consistency, played a terrific all-around game, scoring five points but adding seven blocks. Mike Bruesewitz, who had missed his last 18 shot attempts entering Thursday’s game and hadn’t made a 3-pointer since Feb. 9, scored eight points on 3-of-5 shooting (2-for-3 from 3-point range).

Simply put, there are several reasons why the Badgers enter their matchup with the Commodores riding high. Three, however, stand out as significantly more important than the rest.

No. 1 reason for optimism: Jordan Taylor is Jordan Taylor again

When you’re named a preseason All-American entering your senior season, the world is expected of you.

A mediocre – by his standards – beginning to the season halted much of that All-American talk and, for all intents and purposes, shelved it for the rest of the year.

But in Wisconsin’s third Big Ten game of the year, a hard-fought overtime loss to Michigan State, Taylor scored 28 points on 7-for-11 shooting. Two games later, in a win over Nebraska, he scored 19 points while dishing out six assists.

Taylor was starting to catch fire right when Wisconsin needed it most. In the Badgers’ final five games of the season, UW’s point guard averaged 17.6 points per game.

But as a point guard, particularly in Bo Ryan’s system, Taylor’s never been just a scorer. Thursday’s game against Montana was perfect evidence of that, as he scored 17 points but added eight rebounds and six assists without turning the ball over once.

Occasionally, in those moments where Wisconsin’s offense just doesn’t seem to work, Badgers fans clamor for Taylor to be more aggressive on offense. It sure is encouraging to see him score nearly 30 points in a game, but a well-rounded effort like the one he set forth against Montana most aptly situates Wisconsin for victory. Moving forward, a Taylor who is clicking on all cylinders while still providing for his teammates bodes very well for the Badgers.

No. 2 reason for optimism: Ryan Evans keeps showing up

As great as the stud on any given team can be, the No. 2 option is almost always necessary to achieve true greatness. For the Badgers this season, that’s been Evans. The 6-foot-6, 210-pound guard/forward has blossomed into a player who can truly do it all on the court – shoot, drive, rebound and defend. Evans is second on the team with 10.9 points per game and first with 6.8 rebounds per game.

More importantly, he’s been the steadiest Badger over the second half of the season. In each of his last 12 games, Evans has scored in double figures. Twice in that span he recorded a double-double.

Against Montana, Evans tied for the game-high with 18 points while also adding eight rebounds. His emergence as a bona fide complement to Taylor eases the scoring load falling on the shoulders of his teammates while also fostering a steadying presence for a team prone to lethal scoring droughts. In Evans, the Badgers have a player big enough to score on the post and in the paint but also step back and sink a jumper.

Evans, like so many Wisconsin forwards over the years, is also a skilled perimeter player in that when he’s on the floor, defenses have to account for him. Though he was 2-for-6 from 3-point range against Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament, Evans will never be mistaken for a 3-pointer. However, his agility and ball skills make him a threat to consistently drive to the hoop that defenses absolutely must account for.

In every aspect of his game, Evans is light years ahead of where he was as a sophomore. Now, he’s nearly as important to this team as Taylor.

No. 3 reason for optimism: Rob Wilson won’t slow down

Since his “Holy S***, Did He Really Just Do That”? 30-point performance in Wisconsin’s win over Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament, there’s no way to avoid talking about Wilson.

Previously known as the Badgers’ “other senior” behind Taylor, Wilson emerged as the Badgers’ most important role player down the stretch. Particularly with Bruesewitz struggling to put points on the board, Wilson’s ability to come off the bench and fit right in paid dividends for a Wisconsin team that appeared to have all its pieces finally fitting together just right. After seeing 16 minutes of playing time against Michigan State Feb. 16, Wilson finished the season playing at least 10 minutes in each game.

He scored 11 points against Iowa, nine three days later in Wisconsin’s rousing road upset of Ohio State and then finished the regular season with eight points on senior day. Then came his 30-point outburst in Indianapolis, and there was no way Wilson was fading out of sight any time soon.

More so than any singular statistic, Wilson’s greatest contribution comes in that he can take the floor and supply nearly anything Wisconsin needs. Though he certainly won’t have too many more 30-point games, his scoring acumen is proven. Wilson, listed as a guard/forward at 6-foot-4, 200 pounds can also defend opponents of varying size while maintaining an ability to put the ball on the floor and drive to the hoop with frequency.

Perhaps it sounds silly to hail a bench player as one of Wisconsin’s biggest strengths moving forward through the NCAA tournament, but that’s just how the Badgers’ season has unfolded. Outside of Taylor, several players have had to step into unfamiliar roles. Now, Wilson is that player, and Wisconsin is absolutely better for it.

Mike is a senior majoring in journalism. How do you feel about the Badgers’ chances in the NCAA Tournament? Let him know on Twitter @mikefiammetta.

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